23rd Annual Minneapolis - St. Paul International Film Festival
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As I stumbled from one film festival to another, I asked myself, “what am I doing here?” Wasn’t my goal in life, as one English teacher was fond of slapping our wrists and announcing to the class: “you must see life steadily and see it whole!” That’s from the l9th century English critic Matthew Arnold. And how can you see life steadily when you have hundreds of ?lm titles in your head — No! Thousands! All of Minneapolis (we like to think big and say the “Upper Midwest,” so no one is left out) is relying on you to come through again this year with an irresistible slate of “must-sees” –what a tremendous responsibility! “This is living? And seeing life whole?” I ask myself. When you don’t even have time to grab a Big Mac? When there is the big buzz for “Sign of the Horse” at 12 noon in Studio 5? And a certain Peter Scarlett from Tribeca Fest is hovering about, and you know he’s just waiting to pounce on the film and announce a U.S. exclusive so your people can all go to hell and never get to see this much-talked about work from some Mongolia or other. Better not to torture yourself, you tell yourself, not to mention the team that is standing there in the home office waiting to judge for themselves the little cherry plums you have just found for them, not to mention your audience out there this year. Yes, conscience makes cowards of us all, ground down by some self-imposed code that whispers, “Shhh, you’re doing this — why — because it’s for the sake of Art!” Oh, that’s what it’s for, for the sake of cinema art? That I went to, let’s see, seven festivals this year: starting with the modest little Rochester, Mn, International immediately following M-SPIFF. Then: Seattle, Karlovy Vary, Montreal, Toronto, Rotterdam, Berlin. And this is the dreck you came up with? For shame! Stop punishing yourself. Everybody who has seen the schedule tells you it’s the best ever. OK, I’ll buy that. And I really mean it. OK, now I can feel proud. Wow, 163 feature programs this year? Not bad, especially having stumbled from one fest to the other, not to mention the catalogs and posters you schlepped, even if FedEx lost the most precious of the haul just before the team had to sweat to make the catalog deadlines one more year again.

So what is a film festival? It is an invention discovered by a Frenchman, I believe. His name, you may know it, was the Marquis de Sade, and carried on by certain types who secretly enjoy killing themselves for the sake of Art , known as “masochists.” You meet a lot of these sado-masochists, who actually hold a lot of power over you and your so-called audience or audience-to-be, at festival cocktail parties. (Unless you go as “Press” — then have to free-load, owing to the decline of the dollar in face of the euro, and the nothing-pay you get as a wretched “free-lancer” and if you arrive in time you cadge a bite or two.) It’s here also where you bump into the nomadic festival junkies, getting drunk, who can put you straight on the “discoveries” of the day which you could haven’t missed, seeing as there are at least six worthy films ( I hate the word “flicks”) playing at once (I’m talking about the really big festivals: Berlin—I haven’t been to Cannes since 1975).

Here in cigarette-smoking Berlin I’m at a former outpost of the “Free World” trying to care, in the middle of all the chaos of the modern movie business you find in places like here, or Toronto (throw in Sundance, where being from Minneapolis, you feel, doesn’t count.). Yes, festivals now are “as much part of the movie business as first weekend grosses, DVD extras, and this week’s film starring Jude Law,” wrote compatriot Nick Roddick of Screen International in Berlin. Enough self-torture and kvetching. The business vs. art argument in this new communications era can wait for some panel or other. As the business of film festivals now faces inevitable challenges, here in little old Twin Cities they may be not apparent to the audience. We see the festival having its biggest change in a decade. Check out the 15-film expanded and dynamic children’s film sidebar, the 25-film broadened look at new, burgeoning Asian cinema, l0 African films and the increased (15) Latin American package, while the centerpiece European section takes special note of the EU with 25 directors doing their thing; Scandinavia is still strong as ever, with Sweden big this year. A juried Emerging Filmmakers competition has $65,000 in prizes: In a word, Big. And hey, the documentaries! The changes reflect the new role for incoming Mn. Film Arts director Jamie Hook (as Capt. Hook he commands a steady ship). To the goer — and we solicit your loyal support — the key word is “discovery” of the “new” new world. It’s there! Go for it!

–your obedient servant,